Ag Policy Blog

USDA General Counsel Nominee Says Cattle Markets Issues Are Top Priority

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Janie Simms Hipp, nominee to be USDA's general counsel, told senators during her nomination hearing on Thursday that's she's also getting a lot of calls over the problems facing producers right now with cattle markets. (Image from committee livestream)

Janie Simms Hipp, nominee to be general counsel for the Department of Agriculture, told senators her "phone is blowing up as well" over the constant price divergence in the cattle markets and the concerns of cattle producers.

In a nomination hearing Thursday for Hipp, multiple senators said the Senate Agriculture Committee will be holding a separate hearing at some point on the cattle markets. Senators want to understand where the Department of Justice stands on its investigation into packers, and what USDA can do with the Packers & Stockyards Act to deal with issues of packer concentration and captive supply.

Hipp, originally from Oklahoma and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, worked at the Oklahoma attorney general's office, then entered a master's in agricultural law program at the University of Arkansas and worked at the National Ag Law Center there before accepting positions at the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Risk Management Agency in the Obama administration. She then returned to the University of Arkansas, she launched the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and later was the founding CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund, a private charity established with leftover funds from the Keepseagle discrimination case against USDA.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said at the beginning of Hipp's hearing that the committee needs to hold its own hearing on the problems with the cattle markets.

Multiple senators earlier this week also called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to also examine cattle markets as well.

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Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said there's "a spike of concern" and also pointed to the need for a hearing on the Mandatory Livestock Price Reporting reauthorization as well. "That will be an opportunity where we can come together as senators to be able to address this," Fischer said. The senator said she is working on legislation to address anticompetitive activity on the federal and the state level.

USDA's Office of General Counsel needs to work with other agencies within USDA and also "needs to be very connected, if you will, with DOJ during this process," Hipp said. She added, "I've been hearing of these issues for as long as I've been an agricultural lawyer, and they seem to ebb and flow in terms of spikes of concern, but I believe I'm seeing a bi-partisan approach to this issue that I haven't seen before."

Hipp said the challenges with cattle markets "can be extremely difficult" and involve large volumes of economic analysis.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, also brought up the price divergence issues in the cattle markets. "My phone is blowing up over this issue," Marshall said, saying family and friends are calling him. Marshall said cow-calf producers, backgrounders and producers with small feedyards "only have one buyer show up and say 'here's the price, take it or leave it" and I'm very concerned about this." Marshall also asked Hipp to committee to an immediate update on an investigation, and release complete findings.

Hipp responded, "I commit to you I will get on this as one of my very, very top priorities. My phone is blowing up as well."

On a separate issue, Boozman, Marshall and Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, also made a point of asking Hipp whether she has a legal opinion on whether carbon is a commodity as a way to reiterated to USDA leaders that they remain opposed to USDA using the Commodity Credit Corp. to pay farmers for carbon sequestration. Hipp said she needs to dig deeper on the legal issues.

"What I will say is that a lot of these questions come up in the context of utilization of the CCC for carbon sequestering purposes and, I think that, you know the CCC has some very powerful authorities to actually sit up under and support our farmers and ranchers and has been used for years and years, in many ways to support Farm Bill programs and I look forward to digging deeper on this particular issue and getting back with you all on the committee as we work together," Hipp said.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported Hipp will not receive a confirmation vote until after the Senate comes back from its Memorial Day recess.

Video of Hearing: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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